Vikings TE Florian Bierbaumer led with 4 catches and 3 touchdowns. Photo: Flo Mitteregger
Although it won’t be remembered as one of their classic matchups, the Vienna Vikings and Tirol Raiders opened a new chapter in their historic rivalry on Sunday.
austria two most famous football clubs started their journey in the European Football League appropriately facing each other. During the visit vikings overcame half a dozen injuries in training camp to steal the 29-23 victory, the penalty contest was defined by uncharacteristic negligence on both sides.
This scenario became evident from the game’s very first disc when the vikings were forced to kick from the bottom of their own end. Punter Sebastian Daum mishandled snap and veteran RaidersDefensive back Vincent Muller pounced on the loose ball, giving his offense a prominent position on the pitch. Despite being held back by multiple penalties, quarterback Sean Shelton wasted no time adding his first ELF touchdown pass to his noble career European totals, threading the needle between two defensemen on a 21-yard strike to receiver Phillip Haun.
Vienna seemed ready to respond to the next series, while Italian receiver Jordan Bouah took off for 22 yards on a screen pass and new quarterback Jackson Erdmann ran 18 more yards to get into positive territory. A lack of discipline proved to be the killer, as an illegal block erased a 20-yard touchdown from Austrian wide receiver Florian Bierbaumer and the ensuing infractions forced a short punt.
The Raiders however, could not escape the shadow of their own goal post and the vikings quickly recovered the ball. It looked like history could repeat itself with misses and penalties forcing a fourth-and-13, but head coach Chris Calaycay opted to play and Erdmann returned to Bierbaumer, finding him with a 35-yard heave in the end zone to tie the game to seven.
Tirol would fail to regain their lead with a missed field goal from Fabian Abfalter early in the second quarter and they would not find themselves in front again. A difficult race from Florian Wegan helped the vikings step on the field and Erdmann returned it to Bierbaumer once more for a 15-yard score. A successful two-point conversion in tight end Adria Botella-Moreno was nullified by another illegal blocking penalty and the kick attempt that followed was missed, keeping the score at 13-7 until halfway through. time.
The Raiders looked like they had the makings of a great practice after intermission, but saw their dreams dashed when a quick pass from Shelton was hit to the line by the long arms of Vikings defensive end Leon Balogh. The deflected ball ricocheted directly into the hands of a blitz defensive back Benjamin Straight, who caught it in stride and ran unopposed for the touchdown.
from Vienna the lead was 12 after a failed two-point attempt, but the Raiders started to come back with a bang. Fabian Abfalter scored a field goal from 26 yards in the next training and the home team quickly won the ball, while the former CFL defensive end Niklas Gustav roared to strip vikings‘ running back Florian Wegan. Imported ball carrier Logan Moragne did the rest for Tirol, collecting 21 on a screen pass before following lead tackle Sebastian Schaar into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown run. The subsequent attempt was not good, but from Vienna the lead was reduced to just three.
The vikings quickly set about changing that fact, but a hellish sack from Patrick Pilger helped them hold up a 48-yard field goal from Sebastian Daum. The Raiders wouldn’t be able to reward the miserly defense with points though, as Sean Shelton was stripped by Vienna defensive lineman Dominic Siegel while trying to step up into the pocket on the next practice and defensive back Luis Horvath brought the recovery back to the 12-yard line. Three games later, the huge Austrian Florian Bierbaumer completed his hat trick, this time catching an eight-yard touchdown pass from Erdmann.
The fourth quarter started with fireworks and as a fabulous first down by Fabian Abfalter was overruled by review, a crazy scramble from Sean Shelton behind the line set up a 30-yard strike to Marco Schneider and got the Raiders back in action. Abfalter would soon complete a nine-yard touchdown catch at the left pylon to make it a one-score game.
The skies opened up as the home side attack and a lightning delay halted the game for 30 minutes midway through the final frame. It seemed to suit the Raiders very well, as they came out of the impromptu break with renewed fire and exploited most of the remaining clock thanks to the hard running of Logan Moragne and Tobias Bonatti.
Inside the red zone with less than a minute remaining, it looked like the unlikely comeback was assured before Vienna linebacker Thomas Schnurrer had a second pitch. Slippery conditions prompted Shelton to short his next two passes to Abfalter and the Raiders turned him on the downs, losing 29-23 to his rival.
While the story entering the game was about the story between the two former AFL franchises, it was a pair of players pulled from other Austrian clubs that ultimately shone brightest. Ancient danube dragon Phillip Haun unofficially caught 12 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown for the Raiders and old Graz Giant Florian Bierbaumer was the the Vikings best weapon, making four catches for 63 yards and three majors. RaidersRunning back Logan Moragne also shone, carrying 16 times for 82 yards and a score while adding 25 yards through the air.
Veteran quarterback Sean Shelton was consistent and dependable as usual, going 24 of 42 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, highly touted vikings‘import Jackson Erdmann was off target for much of his European his debut, connecting on just 10 of 26 passes for 122 yards but finding pay dirt three times.
These are two fortuitous forced reversals by the vikings‘ a talented defense which proved to be the difference, but both teams will enter their second week of action with a lot to clean up before they can claim to be ELF power plants as they were Austria.